A good leader should focus on making sure everyone is being given the tools to do their job, not just expecting – poof! – that they’re going to produce great work. — Anne Sweeney, formerly the co-chair of Disney Media
I was recently asked a question that I have been thinking about since. During a conference call one of the participants asked, “Aren’t my people already working hard to solve problems and make things better for our customers?” An excellent question for sure because the answer is: yes, they are! So, what should change?
First, a couple of simple examples:
- Imagine your smartphone is on the fritz (I know this is an unthinkable tragedy for many of you!). You go to your local smartphone repair shop and hand it to the smart-looking person behind the counter who promptly pops off the back and begins digging around with a butter knife. After 30 minutes the phone is handed back unrepaired. Are you surprised? Of course not, the butter knife is most certainly the wrong smartphone repair tool.
- You are the CEO of a major international corporation. Thousands of people work in the company and you have customers in every corner of the globe. You want to understand purchasing patterns for different products. You have asked your salespeople to do the analysis….on a spreadsheet. Just to be clear, this is the wrong tool for the job.
In both of these examples, people are working very hard to do the work they have been asked to do. The problem?…they don’t have the right tools to do that work. This situation is repeated over and over and over again in all types of organizations. People are asked to solve increasingly complex problems with only their wits and past experience. For simple problems this can be okay but, for complex problems, this is simply not enough.
The education system is not much help in this matter. Undergrad and graduate degree programs rarely teach the processes and tools needed for solving problems or making improvements. Occasionally, there will be a course that tries to address the need, but this is generally insufficient for real understanding and application.
The first step for leadership is to recognize that the need exists.
How does one know this? The answers to a few simple questions will help you understand the need:
- Can you see the results of problems solved and improvements made in happier customers and better business results?
- How do people solve problems and make improvements? Is there a standard process?
- Is problem solving and improvement done by teams or the smartest person available?
- How hard is it to work on problems that cross-functional or business boundaries?
- How is data used in the problem-solving effort?
- How often does the same problem recur?
- How many problems go into the “too-hard-to-do” or “we’ll-get-to-that-later” pile?
If you love your answers and things in your business are running perfectly, STOP READING…no really…stop reading…we can’t help you.
Now, for the rest of you, the people in your organization, and even you need more sophisticated tools to solve increasingly difficult and complex problems.
One way to think about this is with an example you are likely familiar with:
- You have multiple material suppliers for everything you use in your business.
- These suppliers have multiple production and assembly sites.
- These sites are located around the world.
- Your inventory consolidates all of the material you use without regard to production location or even supplier.
- Something goes wrong with one of your products using this material.
- What do you do?